PARIS – The scandal, intrigue and occasional vaudeville of Nicolas Sarkozy’s five years in the presidency made for great headlines, and French journalists once fretted that politics under his successor, François Hollande, who pledged to be a “normal” president, might prove unbearably dull.
But that fear overlooked the court cases, judicial investigations and general whiff of malfeasance that would trail Sarkozy and his lieutenants out of the corridors of power and, it now appears, entangle even Hollande.
The almost universal expectation that Sarkozy will make a bid for the presidency in 2017 has only heightened the drama.
Chief among the affairs is the allegation, now under investigation by two special magistrates, that Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign received as much as $70 million in illegal funds from Moammar Gadhafi of Libya.
This month, the newspaper Le Monde revealed that investigators had tapped the phones of Sarkozy, two of his former ministers and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, beginning last year. Sarkozy appears to be the first former French president to have his private conversations monitored by investigators.
He has denied the claims of Libyan financing, made by former loyalists to Gadhafi and one of his sons. The phone-tapping has led to unrelated suspicions involving Sarkozy and a well-placed magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, who is believed to have served as his informer in the courts.
Inauspicious as this may seem for Sarkozy and the right, it is the center-left government of Hollande that is now on the defensive. After first insisting that they had learned of the phone-tapping only through the news media, government ministers – including the justice minister, Christiane Taubira – admitted they were informed as early as last month.
It is not uncommon for the minister of justice to be apprised of judicial investigations, especially if celebrities or public officials are involved. But the government was not forthcoming about knowledge of the case.
Their political opponents, who presumably should be on the defensive, have pounced.
Taubira has refused and has insisted she did not lie. At a news conference last week, she said that she had been told about the tapping last month but that she had been given no information about what it revealed. But the internal papers she flashed before reporters to prove her point were captured in news photographs, and closer observation of the documents suggests Taubira was far better informed than she claimed.